Are these Mavs ready to contend again or has their time in the Western Conference sun passed them by? It's up to Rick Carlisle to figure it out. The former Pistons and Pacers skipper inherits a group that's traded playoff success for YouTube fame. Not a good swap.
Carlisle starts work with a former MVP, but the relationship of interest for those who pack American Airlines Center nightly is the one with the other Olympian. Jason Kidd and Johnson didn't see eye-to-eye, a surprising turn for those who thought their match was made in Point Guard Heaven. The Little General was never able to cede control to Kidd, and Dallas faded badly after the trade and down the stretch.
Carlisle wasted little time reaching out to Redeem Team's elder statesman. Kidd's inclusion on Team USA was as much about his court savvy as his court vision. Maybe more. Carlisle talked with Kidd about his time with Mark Jackson and Anthony Johnson in Indy, making the point that he lets his point guards call the shots. Kidd liked the sound of that.
"He has no problem with guys that he trusts that can run the team," Kidd said of Carlisle. "He said he will call plays at some point, but first will look to get easy baskets. He wants to have a sense of ‘just playing.' Being structured, but playing, because when you get to the Finals, it's not so much about the plays, but being able to play. I'm excited to play for Rick."
It's fair to say that Kidd is craving more freedom.
"For me it's just about starting from the beginning and being more comfortable," he said. "I have to look for my shot a little bit more, but I also have a lot of weapons out there. The way we can make the team better is with me scoring and being more aggressive. That's what Rick has also talked about. Everybody was playing catch-up the second half of the season. We all needed to start over."
But whether or not the Mavs strike fear into the hearts of the Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz and the rest of the West's best won't be because the coach and quarterback hook up on Facebook. Kidd needs to come to play (and pass) and Carlisle needs everyone else to buy into what he's dishing.
Kidd's rep is built on making those around him better. Heads and hands up, and easy shots follow. Dirk Nowitzki has been pining for those good looks ever since a floppy-haired Canadian bolted for the desert. But can J-Kidd, at 35, keep up with the West's pacesetters? It won't be easy chasing those young rabbits, such as his Olympic teammates Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and those wily vets in Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Baron Davis.
Carlisle turned bad scenes good in Motown and Naptown, but didn't stick around long in either stop. Justified or not, he was cast as rigid and a poor communicator. No one questions his basketball IQ, but X's & O's only take a coach so far. Carlisle spent his year off the sidelines studying the game from the ESPN studio, getting a needed break and different perspective.
"This team needs to be more of an up-tempo-type team," Carlisle said. "We have a great leader in Jason Kidd that I have to give the ball to and let him run the team, which I've done with some of the point guards I've had in the past.
"I think there will be a real premium on using the space on the floor and being a real good movement team, but not forgetting about the importance of the defensive end. That's one of the really important things Avery did in his time here was establish a defensive disposition and commitment. And that's certainly one of the reasons they've had the level of success they've had."
His goal is the Holy Grail of coaching or perhaps the blend of Johnson and predecessor Don Nelson. Carlisle wants to run and defend. Then again, what team doesn't? Are the horses in place to gallop? The jockey, albeit an older one, starts training camp in the saddle. The coach plans to crack his whip. The Mavs figure to break … one way or the other.
-- Art Garcia